Wawel Castle: A Complete Guide
Wawel Castle is a glorious place situated on top of a hill in the Old Town. Being one of the best places to visit in Krakow, this wonderful castle is a symbol of national pride, self-rule, hope, and fierce patriotism for Poland. It is a unique Polish version of the Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace of the British – rolled into one! Wawel Castle is an assortment of Gothic, Renaissance, and Romanesque architecture dating from around the 14th century. The castle is the crown jewel of Krakow’s most valued architectural treasure and one of the most important buildings to see during a Krakow tour. Still need more reasons to visit this gorgeous place?
The Wawel castle was the ancient seat of royalty and contains vast treasures inside the heavily fortified walls that can inspire anyone! The must-see highlights of this castle include the opulent staterooms, a glimpse of Poland’s crown jewels inside the crown treasury, the interiors of the cathedral, and taking a stroll in the courtyards and spaces around the castle. If you plan to take a full tour of Wawel Castle, it can be hard, but rewarding work and might take several days.
You will get a free entry to the complex and you can freely explore the castle grounds. However, if you plan to go inside the castle and see the other monuments as well, it’s a better idea to reserve the tickets way ahead as this is a popular place. But if you are unable to reserve tickets early, you can visit the castle as early as possible so that you can get hold of the tickets. You can also book a local tour of the city through tour operators. Here’s some good news - when you directly buy services from a local tour operator through their website, you can end up paying a lot less!
How to Visit Wawel Castle
The Wawel Castle is located in the Old Town and is a10-minute walk from the Main Market square. It is a 20-minute walk from the bus and train stations. If you plan to depend on public transport for your city tour, you can get at the foot of Wawel hill on a tram or if you are taking the bus, it’s a 10-minute walk from the bus stop. Bicycles too can be rented if you love to cycle through the city. However, they are not permitted on Wawel Hill but bicycle racks are provided at the entrance gates so you can lock the bicycles securely. If you are coming from the Balice airport, it takes around 11 kilometres of the journey to the east of Krakow’s city centre. So you can take a train or bus to reach Wawel Castle.
A parking facility for cars is provided in ‘Plac na Groblach’ which is a 5-minute walk from Wawel Castle. You can also park by the National Museum. However, it is a 20-minute walk to Wawel Hill from here. You can reach your destination faster if you take a bus from the museum and then take a 10- minute walk. Park and ride facilities are also available like Czerwone Maki, Kurdwanów and Bieżanów. You can also opt for metered parking from 10 AM to 8 PM. Buses or coaches can also park near Wawel Castle. If the parking is full, the vehicles can be parked near Wisła Kraków Stadium that is just 1.5 kilometres away from the castle.
There is a special facility for people with disabilities to park close to Wawel Castle. Mobility-impaired visitors can contact the museum in advance of their visit so that the necessary arrangements will be made to accommodate the needs of the visitors.
When to Visit the Wawel Castle
Visiting Hours and Seasons
The hours of operation differ according to the season and are more limited at the time of winter. Wawel Castle is usually closed on Mondays when it is winter. You can check the official website for more details.
General admission tickets to Wawel Castle are available. This would include the entrance into most rooms and exhibits. If you are visiting on a Monday, you can be there between 9:30 AM to 1 PM. This is from April 1 to October 31. On Sundays, the castle is open from 10 AM to 4 PM. This is from November 1 to March 31).
What to See in the Wawel Castle
You know that the Wawel Castle is beautiful but do you know what is there to see inside the castle? When you visit Wawel Hill during your Krakow city tour, you will come across various delightful things. Let’s take a look at a few of these amazing sights.
The Lost Wawel
This exhibit is permanent and was first opened in 1975. It showcases the archaeological findings at the base of the Wawel Castle. You can easily pass through the old Renaissance kitchens, a temple for the Virgin Mary, and the remains of the defence walls and fortifications that were built during the Gothic era.
You can freely walk through the royal apartments where you can see an impressive collection of rooms that could keep you occupied for the entire day! This is one of the most attractive places to visit in Krakow. The visit includes various rooms such as the suite for the Governors of Krakow, which still retains its original wooden ceilings from the Renaissance era; the ornate “Envoy Stairs” that lead to the Envoy’s room, the Governor’s parlor, the Senator’s Hall, the Royal Chapel and the Royal Quarters that are lavishly decorated!
Much of the Wawel Castle was destroyed when the Austrian army occupied the castle. Following this, the Wawel Castle was neglected. This is the reason why some of the rooms are decorated while others have been restored as close to their former glory. Most of the rooms have elaborate artwork that depicts various religious stories and notable moments in Polish history. Ensure you look upwards during the entire exploration to see the intricately carved ceilings as these are one of the major architectural highlights of Wawel Castle.
The Envoy’s room has a unique beauty of its own. It contains ceilings that are carved masterfully. But beware, as there are disembodied head carvings that look down from above which makes the room a bit creepy. It is said that such heads were used in all of the ceiling nooks but were lost over the years. The ones present now were recovered. The idea behind such heads was to represent different men and women to look down on the king. The Senate Hall resembles a huge ballroom. The room looks very pretty and features a gallery on the second level. When you’re here, you will easily picture people wearing fancy dresses and old-fashioned suits dancing around on the dance floor of the castle.
When was Wawel Castle Built?
The oldest fragment of this pretty castle was found during archaeological research. It suggests that the castle was built back in the 11th century. The buildings were rebuilt and new ones have been added constantly. Hence, it is not possible to pinpoint the exact date of origin.
Who Built the Wawel Castle?
Details of the very first builders remain unknown but the kings had a crucial role in developing Wawel and its boundaries like Wladyslaw I, the Elbow-high who reigned between 1306 to 1333 and Casimir III the Great who reigned between 1333 to 1370.
This castle was the home and fortress of Polish kings while Krakow was the capital of the country. Being one of the biggest Polish castles, it is also one of the most beautiful and most important places to visit in Krakow. It is located on a hill and has a complex of buildings that surrounds its majestic yard. Just imagine being there and taking a glimpse of the buildings from the compound. You need to visit Wawel Castle to experience this!
Understanding the History of Wawel Castle
The Wawel Castle was rebuilt and renovated various times due to thefts, wars, and fires. Thus, it incorporates various architectural styles. This diversion gives it the striking beauty and all the attention it deserves. The Wawel Castle is a museum today that can be marvelled as one of the highest classes of works of art with its collection of beautiful sculptures, amazing paintings, sophisticated tapestries, and much more!
Until recently, Da Vinci’s “Lady with an ermine” was kept here for a few years. It was later on moved to Krakow's National Museum. Wawel Castle too houses an important art conservation centre.
Golden Age of Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle had a golden age where the castle proudly stood in the city with all its beauty and attractiveness. This castle was the main residence of Polish royalty and had various private rooms designated for them. The largest expansion of Gothic and brick made part of the castle happened due to the decisions of Casimir III the Great (1333 – 1370). His successors, King Ladislas Jagiello and his wife Jadviga of Andegavens had invited various artists and architects to Wawel Castle.
It was then the structure was enriched with Sandomierz, Thieve’s, and Senatorial Towers. The Wawel Cathedral also has towers and is an essential place to visit in Krakow. The cathedral has the Zymuntowska tower that has five bells of which the largest one weighs 11000 kilos. The famous arcaded courtyard of Wawel was constructed in the 16th century along with the renaissance castle. This was done to replace the Gothic one.
More about Wawel Castle
Let’s learn some politics behind the Castle! The Wawel Castle became prominent as a major centre of political power by 1000 AD. The evidence suggests that Wawel Hill was used as a fortified castle even before the time of Poland's ruler, Mieszko I. He chose the Wawel Castle as his official residence. However, the first Polish king who was crowned in the Wawel Castle was the teenage Wladyslaw the Short who ruled Poland between the years 1306-1333. Around 35 rulers were further crowned in the castle until the 17th century.
The Wawel Castle was used as a residence by all the rulers and had added their architectural details to the building during their reign. When the capital of Poland was shifted to Warsaw in 1596, the decline of Poland and partitioning made the Royal Castle fall into a state of disrepair. Austrians who had occupied it used the place as a military hospital and even demolished some buildings including various churches. The 20th century saw the change of the Wawel Castle during various occasions with huge renovation works.
The renovation of the castle continues to this day as it was interrupted and halted for various reasons, especially when the castle was used as headquarters of the Nazi Governor-General, Hans Frank, during the German occupation of World War II. The Wawel Castle complex that is seen today is a mixture of various styles including the Medieval, Renaissance, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque. The inner courtyard has delightful colonnades and is a true architectural masterpiece and the treasures contained contribute to Krakow’s rightful status as a world-class city. Hence, all tourists who opt for Krakow tours consider the Wawel Castle as a must-see place to visit in Krakow.
Now, let’s get back on how to reach Wawel Castle if you have already started planning your visit!
Getting to Wawel Castle
The nearest public transit stop is just a few hundred feet away from Wawel Castle. It is a short walk, probably a 15-minute walk from stops on either side. Ready for your Wawel Castle tour today
When you reach the castle, you will ascend the Wawel Hill on a ramp and then enter the grounds. There are many interesting things to explore here. You can enjoy the view of the Vistula River which displays the entire beauty of the place! You can examine the inspiring architecture, identify the outlines of the structures and try to imagine how the Wawel Castle must have been in all its former glory, many years ago!
Only some of the Wawel Castle’s state rooms and private royal chambers are open to the public. The chambers consist of original interior design, rich furnishings, and renaissance paintings. Rooms like Planet Room (Yes, you read it right) are named for their decoration, and others are named for their purpose. The private rooms housed by the castle include guest bedrooms, rooms of unknown purpose, and the Hen’s Foot rooms, that offer an exemplary view of Krakow.
You may now be curious to know all about the Polish treasury and armoury. Yes, the treasury and armoury exhibitions of the crown contain various interesting objects. It was possessed by various Polish kings that include a coronation sword, jewellery, and weapons that were used throughout the ages for ceremonial, defensive, and tournament purposes.
If there is a hidden archaeology lover inside you, descend to the Wawel Castle’s basement. You can find the items that were unearthed by the excavations of Wawel Hill here. You will also get to see various everyday life objects at the castle when you go through the displays in the exhibition. Architectural fragments from the deteriorated structures of the Wawel Castle are displayed too. You will also get a chance to visit the Dragon’s Den, Medieval Tower, and the Royal Garden within Wawel Hill.
This is a must-see place that should be added to your itinerary and which is always included in Krakow tours. This cathedral was the site of royal coronations. It is also a burial site for Polish kings. The chapels are richly decorated and are dedicated to the past rulers. They contain examples of different relics and elaborate art pieces.
Here is an interesting fact. Do you know that the current Wawel Cathedral is the third to be built on the site? The first cathedral was built of wood, around 1020. It was destroyed by fire and was replaced by the second cathedral which was again burnt down. The current building was sanctified in 1364 and was built following the orders of Poland’s first king who was crowned at Wawel, Władysław the Elbow-high, who reigned from 1306-1333. He was crowned among the charred rubble of the cathedral. This is the most important single building in Poland! This extraordinary cathedral contains much of the original architecture. However, some glorious additions have been made over the centuries.
Some might say that this cathedral is not as stunning as the St. Mary’s Cathedral on the Rynek. However, their claims would be short-lived once they see the interior of this cathedral. A sheer amount of history is packed within this cathedral. There is also an impressive tomb of the former Bishop of Kraków, St. Stanisław (1030-1079) accommodated here. A grand monument that suits the controversial cleric is provided after which the cathedral is dedicated to. This place boasts of 18 chapels and all of them are greatly impressive!
One chapel that might be of particular interest to you is the 15th century Chapel of Holy Cross that is found to the right as soon as you enter. This chapel features some beautiful Russian murals and Veit Stoss’ a marble tomb to Kazimierz IV. You can find the final resting places of kings and statesmen in the Royal Crypts and if you go on top of an arduous wooden series of staircases, you will come across a vast 11 tonne, and loud Sigismund Bell. It is said that if the bell is rung, it can be heard around 50 kilometres away! How amazing is that!
Other Things to See at Wawel Castle
- The Lost Wawel exhibit can be ideal if you are interested in history, as you can learn more about the past of the castle in Krakow.
The Oriental Exhibit contains artifacts and art from places in the Middle East.
- The Den’s Dragon is a huge cave that is also located in Wawel Hill and is definitely worth a visit. However, this place is open only during the tourist season.
- Before you walk out of the Wawel Castle, make sure you have visited the area along the Vistula River, as the view from here is simply outstanding. Catch the sunset here, if you are there at the end of the day.
There are various other tourist attractions and amazing places to visit in Krakow, so organize your tour well, by getting in touch with local tour operators who can help plan your Krakow tours for you. You can even opt for customized tours that suit your needs and requirements but never miss out on a chance to visit Wawel Castle and Poland, as this beautiful place has a lot to offer!